Music Reviews

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Artist: DJ Raph
Title: Sacred Groves
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Noland
Working partly in Nairobi and partly in Berlin, DJ Raph draws on Kenyan and broader pan-African field recordings (archive material rather than original recordings if I understand correctly) of traditional ethnic music and shapes them into modern electronica arrangements that are on the very mellowest side of bass music. Soft clicky electronic grooves and rolling, rich but lightweight-and-fluffy bass notes hum underneath organic sounds that are from the more celebratory and reverent side of tribal music.

Some of the source sounds are treated in quite dubby ways, often allowed to breathe quite nicely, and when it works (which is most of the time), it really works. Highlights include “Reeds From Chad” and the bizarrely beautiful “Butcher’s Rhythm” that’s far more relaxed than its title suggests. “Ikondera” is notable for its slightly more driving, synthwavey bass sounds that seem to point proceedings in the direction of moombahton.

Mostly it’s a very complimentary fusion of sounds that makes the most of the source rhythms, but it’s not always a perfect match- the odd off-beat in “Earthstep” feels like a pull between the speed variations of the organic drumming and a less tolerant 90bpm-ish kick pattern.

In the 90’s acts like Deep Forest gained popularity followed by disfavour for their cultural appropriation of ethnic music into electronica. More than twenty years on the principle behind this release is not actually all that dissimilar, and while the grooves and flavours may have changed (though some of the samples are vaguely comparable), it still operates in the same field. Thankfully there’s a lot more musical open-mindedness around now, plus DJ Raph’s own heritage should defend this release against any misplaced misappropriation claims.

Final track “Yayaya Twins” wraps things up in a slightly limp fashion, but otherwise it’s gentle African-traditional-music-infused electronica with a gentle warmth, too leisurely to really set your heart racing but a very pleasant, relaxing and slightly-unusual way to spend 37 minutes.



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